In this section of the Colossus Movie Guide for Avatar: The Way of Water, we talk about themes that help us understand the film.
The themes and meaning of Avatar: The Way of Water
There are two primary, semi-overlapping themes: water and family. Sub-themes involve life and death, adopted family, and fear.
Water as a outlook on life
“The Way of Water” wouldn’t be the movie’s subtitle if it wasn’t an important theme. It’s also one of those titles that’s spoken in the movie. Meaning we have specific dialogue we can look at that helps with primary interpretation. In this case, it’s a mantra of the Metkayina Na’vi. We first hear the Metkayina chieftain’s daughter, Reya, speak the words to Lo’ak.
Quote: The way of water has no beginning and no end. The sea is around you and in you. The sea is your home, before your birth and after your death. Our hearts beat in the womb of the world. Our breath burns in the shadows of the deep. The sea gives and the sea takes. Water connects all things. Life to death. Darkness to light.
It’s a somber lesson about the realities of life. Similar to the philosophy in The Lion King regarding the circle of life. We’re all part of this giant system. Sometimes we benefit from it, sometimes we’re the victims of it. But the system is larger than all of us. Undeniable. And the more we can embrace its truths, the more we can find peace and acceptance in both the good and the bad.
Family as strength and weakness
Family is an emphasis throughout the film. In both Jake Sully’s narration and the in-world action. The beginning of Way of Water introduces us to Jake and Neytiri’s family. From her pregnancy, to the birth of Neteyam, Lo’ak, and Tuk. Plus the adoptions of Kiri and Spider. They go from children to young adults. It’s a decade of peace and wonder. Until the sky people return. Then things become complicated.
Over and over again, the kids put the family into compromising situations. Whether it’s Lo’ak convincing Neteyam to abandon their scout position. Or going down to a forbidden area where they encounter the Na’vi-fied Colonel Miles Quartich and become hostages. Or fighting with the sons of the Metkayina chief. Or getting captured by Miles multiple other times. There’s a reason Jake has a moment of narration where he says: “Sullys stick together. It was our greatest weakness and our great strength.”
Most of Way of Water, Jake and Neytiri are at their wits end because their kids keep stirring up trouble and ending up in life threatening situations. But it’s also their children that give them hope and joy and purpose. And at the very end, both are stuck in the sunken ship and think it’s impossible to escape. But Lo’ak comes and saves Jake. Kiri comes and saves Neytiri and Tuk. Spider was essential in the defeat of Quaritch. And if Lo’ak hadn’t befriended the tulkun Payakan, then it’s unlikely the Na’vi would have won a fight against the humans.
As much trouble as the kids caused, they were also the difference makers. Which is the natural cycle of things. Parents have kids, raise kids, protect the kids. But, eventually, the kids start contributing. And the family is better off for it, even if there are complications along the way.
This also ties back to the way of water. In the mantra, you can replace “water” with “family” and it works.
The cost of fear
It’s not really explored explicitly, but, at the very end of Way of Water, Jake reveals that he’s been acting out of fear. Through narration, he says, “I can’t save my family by running.” What we saw in the original Avatar was a Jake Sully who was motivated to fight and lead. But more than 10 years later, he’s less inclined to direct conflict. That’s because of his family. He doesn’t want anything to happen to them. Because of that fear, he removes himself from conflict. Opting to take the family and retreat from the forests of Pandora to the far off shores.
Except the fight comes to him anyway. And he loses his son because of it. Sure, maybe if he had stayed he would have lost everything. But that’s not something anyone can ever know. What we do know is that his fear allowed Quaritch and the humans to grow in power. And it cost Na’vi lives. It cost Neteyam’s life.
By the end, Jake has rediscovered his conviction. His sense of action. Because the seal has been broken. Running didn’t save his family. It’s no longer the best option. Meaning all that’s left is to fight. And win.
What are your thoughts?
Are there more themes you think should be part of the Colossus Movie Guide for Avatar: The Way of Water? Leave your comments below and we’ll consider updating the guide.